Pushing Through Mental Illness to Reclaim Your Dreams

This is a photo taken by me from the deck of a World War II American Diesel Submarine in Pearl Harbour, Hawaii. I don’t know if anything in my life made me happier than to travel to a tropical destination and witness history. I had wanted to go to Hawaii since I was a young boy in school and one of my closer friends would go there every Christmas vacation and come back brown as a chestnut. I accomplished this goal because I decided I was going to make it happen. It had little to do with the fact that I had no money, little to do with the fact that I needed medications and travel insurance and flights and hotels. I just worked as hard as I could, first to get better, then to advance up the pay scale in a regular job to make it real. What are your goals? Do you dream of having children? Aside from a criminal record, why not volunteer for a summer camp job? Why not take some training and work in a day care. Anything a person can do without a mental illness can be done with one, but it takes steps, planning and goals. Your first step may simply be to find the right medication. The next step is to get used to taking it and take it as directed, day after day, month after month. It can take years. Many have traumas that take a lot of time, but if you want to do something, keep reminding yourself of it. Put a photo of your dream destination on the wall, or your dream car. After the step of getting proper medical attention for your illness, your best bet is to get therapy. Group therapy can be great, but I strongly recommend cognitive behavioural therapy, the process of going through steps to make new connections in your mind. It has been shown to be so effective that it actually works better all on its own than medication all on its own. But that doesn’t mean you can stop your medication, you still need it, but together with effort and work, you can get pretty close to fully functional.

Do you want to be a writer? You have all that time on your hands most likely. Instead of eating too much, get up, get some exercise to make you feel better all day (walking is the best I feel) and then sit down to read. Most successful authors have read thousands of books, now is your chance. Even start watching a lot of movies. When you are ready, do what I used to do… write a book review, even if you never show it to anyone, keep a separate notebook for writing full page book reviews, and keep another for movies. Get the most out of your experiences. Balance out your life though, make time for walking, biking, swimming, time with friends. If you have a hard time concentrating on reading, work on a few books at a time. Two pages a day can add up to a lot of books in a few years.

As you get better, you may one day find you want to work. Try volunteering. It will greatly enrich your life and your resume. When you volunteer, you can almost get your pick of jobs. You may never be a pilot with a mental illness, but you can work a desk at a flight school and go flying with other licensed pilots all the time. There is so much world out there. But don’t worry if all you can do is just take your medications for now. That is all you need to do, that and maybe some exercise and some healthy food.

Look into supported employment. In Canada, the Schizophrenia Society hires many people with a history of mental illness for essential jobs like being a peer support worker or taking a recovery course and then teaching the course after. You can go and give talks at schools and feel the incredible joy of helping to bring mental illness out of the shadows. Things like this will give your life meaning and hope, and perhaps even a little grocery money. I got some advice once from a man who had once been in a terrible state from bipolar disorder and its symptoms. He said he made a group of friends (five I think) and would talk to each and spend time with each without overloading any with the things he was dealing with, and soon he became stronger and his life became more normal. I should note though, be vigilant. Even after five years or ten years if you stop or change your medications, you can end up in trouble again. Don’t neglect to see your psychiatrist or let yourself believe the lie many people may tell you that you don’t need medications. I knew a very intelligent man who was on medications and doing well who was told that and went off his medications and to be honest, I have severe doubts he is even alive anymore. Listen to the people trained to care for you and those who love and care for you (family). Small steps. Plans. Goals. Dreams. Paradise.

LG

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